The current pandemic has reversed several conventions. It is most evident in the educational systems across the globe. With internet becoming the primary medium of learning and teaching, smartphone use by students, which remained a widely debated controversial topic, has evolved into an inevitable component for learning.
Those who spoke earlier in favour of mobile phone use by children believed that the device was essential for safety and as a tool to facilitate knowledge earning process. But, opponents argued that mobile phones caused disruption and may be used inappropriately by students.
Recently, there was a news regarding a Class X student ending her life in Valanchery, Malappuram district, allegedly because she did not have access to online classes for want of a smartphone. Neighbours and school friends fondly remembered her as a brilliant student.
This was followed by another similar incident reported from Thrissur wherein a plus-two student from Sainik school Kazhakoottam committed suicide allegedly after dismissal from the school for keeping a mobile phone in his custody, which was reportedly against the school's rule book.
For the usage of mobile phones in a residential school setup under which schools like Sainik Schools fall, the current legal status is given out by Faheema Shirin R.K vs State Of Kerala lawsuit. In the verdict dated 19 September 2019 Kerala High Court observed, “When the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has found that the freedom to access the Internet is a fundamental right and a tool to ensure the right to education, a rule or instruction which impairs the said right of the students cannot be permitted to stand in the eye of the law.”
The judgment further read, “The fact that no other student objected to the restriction or that all others obeyed the instructions will not make a restriction legal if it is otherwise illegal. No student shall be compelled either to use a mobile phone or not to use one. It is for each of the students to decide with self-confidence and self-determination that she would not misuse it and that she would use it only for improving her quality of education.”
This calls for the maturity of leadership in handling the issue and equipping one with adequate administrative and technical acumen to tackle the use of the mobile phone in a residential school setup.
Therefore, mature residential school managements need to wake up to the reality of managing this cutting edge technology easily available to everyone globally to the advantage of the students who are under their care.
A multifaceted approach is required to address the issue. The primary need is to have a policy, which is reviewed and approved by the school authorities.
Some of the methods can be:
» Create a plan, class-wise, so that the permission for mobile use can be given as per the need of the students.
» Clear signages can be installed throughout the premises for making the instructions clear and loud.
» In areas, where the mobile phones are strictly restricted, provisions can be made for the safe their deposit and return as per the norms.
» Tech-Breaks aimed at letting students use their mobile phones can be thought of.
» Blocking the WiFi can be resorted to when it is not required by the students.
(Maj Prince Jose, SM (Retd) is an Indian Army IT expert. He is a celebrated Kargil war veteran)